Prisoners’ welfare in Ecuador remains overlooked; UN torture prevention body raises serious concerns

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The prison condition in Ecuador is grim as the overcrowding rate of state prisons is 30%. Ecuador has over 60 prisons with a maximum capacity of 30,000 prisoners, but there are currently over 36,500 inmates locked up which includes 40% of pre-trial inmates.

The real muddle is that the prison system has been neglected by the government. This includes a lack of rehabilitation activities like education, sport, or job training. The prisons also lack trained administrative staff and guards, some of whom have been accused of ignoring or even contributing to the smuggling of weapons into the facilities.

Human rights organizations also have highlighted that overcrowding, negligence of the authorities, and absence of crime prevention policies in the country are the fundamental reasons for the riots within jail premises.

In 2021 alone, at least 316 people deprived of their liberty were killed in clashes between rival gangs in prisons. Of the total number of deaths, 79 occurred on 26 February, 119 on 28 September and 62 between 12 and 13 November.

Family members are increasingly anxious for the safety of their loved ones. They say their loved ones face a constant threat of violence inside the facility, while explosions and gunfire also can be regularly seen and heard from outside the compound. The inmates are “completely terrified” – both of what is occurring inside the prison, but also of the criminal groups that control the facility.

Amidst this scenario, a Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) visited Ecuador recently. UN torture prevention body has raised serious concerns over the prison crisis that has killed more than 400 people since February last year. They called out the state to take immediate and strict measures to control the prison crisis and protect the human rights of the inmates.

“We are gravely concerned about the dire situation in various detention centres and prisons in Ecuador,” said Maria Luisa Romero, head of the delegation.

The SPT’s mission to Ecuador took place between 25 September and 1 October, amid recent violence in the country’s prison system. The delegation visited nine places of deprivation of liberty in three cities, including joint visits with the country’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), which has the mandate under the Optional Protocol to prevent torture and ill-treatment in the country.

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“We recognised Ecuador’s commitment to addressing the dramatic prison crisis. During our visit, the authorities granted us unrestricted access to detention facilities and to persons deprived of liberty and assured us the opportunity to engage in constructive and uninterrupted dialogue with various government leaders, including the President of the Republic, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Human Rights Secretary, which we hope to continue,” she stated, “but there are actions that need to be taken, and we will provide further recommendations to the State party in our report.”

Guayaquil prison in Ecuador remains the most notorious

One of the most notorious prisons in Ecuador, Guayaquil prison is going through a severe crisis due to riots and the massacre of the prisoners, resulting from the clashes between the gang rivals. Security experts of the state have specified 11 armed groups that control prisons, including Ecuador’s largest, Los Choneros – and also Lagartos, Tiguerones, Lobos, Chone Killers, Fatales, Netas, Aguilas, Fantasmas and Cubanos.

These groups are fighting for power both inside and outside the jail in order to take control of the cocaine routes, as Ecuador has long been a transportation hub for drugs leaving for the United States and Europe.

The acts of violence increased in 2019 when the leader of Los Cubanos, known as El Cubano, was killed in Guayaquil prison. Then in another incident on December 2020, the leader of Los Choneros, aka Rasquina, was killed publicly in Manta after being released from prison. Both incidents sparked a series of turf wars over leadership and territory, according to the state’s security experts.

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